Silicon Valley? No, Thanks. I Prefer Detroit

By: Francesca Louise Fenzi | Inc

When tech entrepreneur Bob Marsh founded his company LevelEleven, which helps businesses to boost their sales using game-inspired incentives for employees, he faced a tough decision: stick to his Detroit roots, or move to a tech hub like Silicon Valley. Here are four reasons why he chose to remain in his hometown–and why he doesn’t regret his decision.

“Unusual” is code for “memorable.”

When Marsh is on the phone with a prospective client and they ask him where LevelEleven is headquartered, he doesn’t hesitate to declare: “Detroit.”

“You can hear the smile in their voice on the phone,” he says, “They say, ‘Wow. It’s so cool to hear that.'”

Marsh explains that founding a tech company outside of traditional hubs like New York or Silicon Valley actually comes with an unexpected benefit–the novelty factor.

People aren’t expecting to hear that a technology company is from somewhere like Michigan, he says. That helps clients to remember LevelEleven and its product.

Hiring? It’s like shooting fish in a barrel.

Another major perk of starting up in an unexpected location is that it makes recruiting that much easier.

“There is a boatload of talent in [San Francisco],” says Marsh, “But the hit rate is lower.” Employers have to compete for the best and the brightest–and once they’ve got them, there is still the alarming propensity for talent-poaching to deal with.

Not so in off-beat locales like Detroit, Marsh explains. The talent pool may be smaller, but the hit rate–or likelihood of making an offer and actually snagging a qualified employee–is much higher. Plus, he says, new hires get “really excited” about what LevelEleven is doing in their own backyard.

It’s all about the real estate.

One of the major perks of launching LevelEleven in Detroit, Marsh says, is the unofficial co-work space that his company shares with almost a dozen other tech ventures in the iconic Madison Building. Rather than build his company out of a garage in the suburbs–an image stereotypical of early dot com enterprises–Marsh said he opted for the invaluable resources of a shared space.

The Madison Building’s fifth floor has developed into a gathering place for Detroit’s entire tech industry, he says, exposing LevelEleven and its peer companies to the unprecedented mentorship and collaboration opportunities.

Working for a higher purpose.

Perhaps most importantly, entrepreneurs in atypical locations for their industry have the ability to more directly influence their surroundings, Marsh says. He believes that for many of his employees and peers, this is a substantial selling point.

“They’re playing a small role in making the city better,” he says of trail-blazing entrepreneurs in non-traditional start-up hubs. For many entrepreneurs, that incentive of enacting change in the place where they live and work is akin to a home team advantage on the road to success.


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